The annual Women of the World (WOW) Festival graced the London Southbank for its 12th year running.
Founded by Jude Kelly, the aim of the festival is to celebrate women, girls and non-binary people across the globe and challenge the belief that gender equality has already been achieved. To date, WOW has staged over 100 festivals and events across six continents, reaching more than two million people.
This year’s WOW Festival took place over the course of three days and included an extensive line-up and panel discussions with Candice Brathwaite, Patrisse Cullors, Bernardine Evaristo, Warsan Shire, and Grace Victory, as well as a mixture of workshops, theatre performances and marketplaces.
I was lucky enough to attend ‘Angela Davis: A Lifetime of Resistance’ and hear the icon herself speak about her lifetime of activism, celebrating the reissue of her autobiography which was first published in 1974 and edited by Toni Morrison.
From the musical performances to the Q&A, Black feminism and Black women were certainly centred at the heart of this event. We were treated to music by Cassie Kinoshi and Laura Mvula, who performed short sets in homage to Davis. Kinoshi’s jazz set certainly set the tone for the evening, performing a piece titled ‘Vessel’. In a conversation with Kelly, Kinoshi explained that the song explored the way in which labels and responsibilities are projected onto Black women which they are then forced to carry. As Kinoshi played, images of Davis were projected on a slideshow, reinforcing this parallel in Davis’ own life and how her image had been used and weaponised by the state during her time in the Black Panther Party.
Even though Davis joined us via Zoom, she was warm, effervescent and very gracious for the questions that she received from chair Lola Olufemi. Lola Olufemi, Black feminist researcher and author of Feminism Interrupted and Experiments in Imagining Otherwise, was the consummate host, confidently deploying her knowledge and personal experience on the subject matters. Audience members often clapped at the end of each of her questions!
Olufemi asked a great question about feminism not only being a process of renaming but also feminism as a methodology. This approach would then reemphasise the importance of feminism for everyone and also a feminism that is constantly reinventing itself to respond to particular issues, i.e. the environment.
As Davis detailed her political awakenings as a child in Birmingham, Alabama, her wrongful incarceration and her life as a scholar, I was struck by the sheer amount of life that Davis has lived. Although Davis expressed embarrassment at publishing an autobiography at 28, it was not surprising.
It was clear from her lifetime of resistance that Davis had the answer for the struggles we have today. Reflecting on her description of her first encounter with communism which she depicts as a lightbulb moment, Davis explained that her awakening was gradual and steady rather than a big bang moment. This really resonated with me as it is through sustainable actions and efforts that we will be able to enact change.
Reflecting on the Black Lives Matters protests of 2020, Davis also confirmed the importance of an internationalist approach for protest and the importance of the collective rather than the propping up of figureheads. Her mention of the interconnected nature of life was a gentle reminder of the responsibility that we all have to each other and the world as a whole.
Indeed, connection was a big theme which even extended to the discussion of oppression, and both Davis and Olufemi eloquently discussed the capitalist and heteropatriarchal origins of oppression and violence.
Laura Mvula rounded off the night singing Four Women by Nina Simone, and two of her own songs Sing To The Moon and She, whilst accompanying herself on piano in neon high heels (!). The lyrics of the latter song, ‘she’s tired but she don’t stop…’ rang through my head on the way home and reminded me of the importance of committing to what you believe in. As Davis remarks in a speech delivered in the 1970s, ‘When one commits oneself to the struggle, it must be for a lifetime.’
WOW Festival Took Place Friday 11th March-Sunday 13th March.
To find out more about Women of the World (WOW) visit the website. here